The Kaye twins, in their mid-60s and still fighting over who was older, pulled up to the entrance of the Wyland Art Gallery for the opening of the gallery’s first international artist, and to meet with the owner. It was a cool fall evening in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago and Georgie, an artist and the older of the two, had insisted on driving.
The driver’s side door of her orange Volkswagen Bug opened with a spine- shivering squeal. Georgie saw her sister cringe and then looked at the crowd of people who had turned around to look at them.
“You know I love to make an entrance,” Georgie said. “Good ol’ Pablo always comes in handy for that.”
“Get Pablo some WD-40 for the door hinges.” Aleta Kaye scolded. “I don’t know why you didn’t let me drive. My Mercedes has air conditioning.” She opened her door on the passenger side, holding her breath in anticipation of another screech. She let out a slight sigh when there was just a burp of a squeak.
“This is so exciting!” Georgie ignored her sister’s instructions as she usually did. “The one and only Nate Stephenson might just give me my own show. I hope I get enough time to talk to him tonight.”
Quickly Georgie checked her bright red lipstick in the side view mirror and while fumbling through her huge satchel purse, she gave her wrists a quick squirt of Jungle Gardenia perfume then rubbed them against her neck.
“Well, the crowd looks colorful,” said Aleta. “At least their tattoos and pink hair. I’ve never seen so many people wearing all black other than a funeral.”
“You act like you’ve never been to an art gallery show with me.” Georgie slipped her arm through her sister’s and began leading her toward the gallery entrance. “You wouldn’t come if you didn’t enjoy it. Heaven knows there is no such thing as forcing Aleta Kaye to do anything she doesn’t want to.”
Aleta looked at her sister and rolled her eyes. “
I know you secretly love it. This way you get to enjoy the freedom, the risk, the adventure of being an artist without getting your frock dirty.” Georgie gave her sister a playful bump with her hip.
Aleta hmphed, “I have to ask because my impressionable adult daughter seems to think her Aunt Georgie is a fashion icon. What do you call this … this ensemble you’re wearing?”
“It’s called Lagenlook.” Georgie gushed as if she were wearing the Hope Diamond on her finger. “It means something like many layers. But the idea is free-flowing fabrics.”
“Lagenlook.” Aleta shook her head. Looking back at her sister, she began to giggle herself. “Well, it certainly looks comfortable.”
“It is. Besides, at sixty-six years old what do I care what anyone thinks of my clothes? I’m too old to care but young enough to still express myself. There aren’t many people who would wear black and hot pink at our age, yet here I am and loving every minute of it!” Georgie shimmied her shoulders making Aleta laugh aloud.
They took a few steps in silence before Georgie stopped, shaking her head.
“Don’t do it, Aleta,” she ordered.
“I know what that sudden silence means, and you need to stop. My cancer isn’t coming back.”
“I know but it was just three short years ago.” Aleta’s voice cracked.
Georgie stopped walking, turned toward her sister and held her at arm’s length. “If you are going to live life looking backward you can spend the evening with Pablo.” Georgie squeezed her sister’s arms. “Now, I’m the older of us two and…”
“I’m sorry, Georgie.” Aleta shook her head and took a deep breath. “I just don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Georgie smiled and pulled her sister into a tight hug. “I love you too, Aleta.” Aleta pulled back, wiping away a tear, careful not to smudge her mascara. “Let’s talk about something else— like how amazing it will be when Nate Stephenson gives you your own exhibit here!”
Georgie blushed. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Nate just said in the voicemail that he saw my pet portraits at Earwax Coffeehouse and wanted to connect tonight.”
Aleta dabbed at the corner of her eye and then put her arm around her sister’s waist, pulling her toward the gallery. “Then let’s go connect!”
# WYLAND ART GALLERY was located on the second floor of a three-story loft building. The first floor was a privately-owned studio that rented spaces to local artists.
Otto Reinholt, an eccentric local philanthropist, rented the top floor. Georgie knew the gossip about the short man with gray hair and a handlebar mustache. Once or twice a month neighbors saw him letting himself in and out of the loft. He never had any visitors or let anyone see inside his place. Despite these eccentricities, people said he was pleasant enough.
“Is this building haunted?” Aleta asked as she followed her sister up a poorly lit flight of stairs.
“Wouldn’t that be great? I don’t know. But now I must ask.” Georgie looked around while carefully holding on to the handrail.
There was a mellow thump-thump-thump of some chill techno music coming from the second floor. A heavy door that looked like the entrance to a bank vault stood slightly ajar.
“Is that in violation of the fire code?” Aleta pointed to the impressive door.
“Would you quit nitpicking?” Georgie scolded. “Did you have anything even remotely this exciting to do tonight that you are missing? No. I didn’t think so.”
Carefully, the sisters reached the landing and peeked inside. The door swung open surprisingly easy and as they stepped inside an insanely tall receptionist stood behind the semi-circular desk and studied them with sleepy eyes.
“Name?” she purred. Her skin was the color of black coffee and her lips glowed a shimmery pink.
“Hello. I’m Georgie Kaye and this is my plus one.” Georgie reached up to adjust her hat. The receptionist scanned a clipboard of names, flipping to the very last page.
Without any expression on her face, she checked off their names and gave them each a black wristband.
“Thank you.” Georgie smiled. “Could you tell me where I can find Nate Stephenson?”
The receptionist flung her long, straight, black hair behind her, looked over her shoulder and pointed to a tall, blond man wearing jeans with exceptionally pointy cowboy boots.
“That’s him with the red scarf?” Georgie confirmed.
The receptionist nodded.
“He looks fairly normal,” Aleta joked as she slipped her arm through Georgie’s. “That’s more than I can say for these sculptures.” She looked down her nose at a barstool with a mound of clay on it.
“I know modern art isn’t always easy to embrace.” Georgie patted her sister’s arm. “I’m certainly more of a fan of the Great Masters, myself. I’m sure the only person who could see fault in Michelangelo’s David is Michelangelo, himself. But that doesn’t mean these weird interpretations aren’t worth something.”
A young man with a goth dye job, wearing black pants and a black button-down shirt held a silver platter with tall champagne glasses up to Georgie and Aleta without saying a word. They thanked him as they each took a glass.
“I’m sorry, sis, but this looks like poop on a barstool,” Aleta whispered.
“Okay, I can’t argue with you about that one,” Georgie conceded. “Let’s look at the other works. I think there are two artists featured. If I remember right, the other one works in oils.”
They slowly meandered through the huge loft space. Displaced sections of wall broke up the room into a kind of maze leading the art-goers in different directions forcing them to mingle and make eye contact.
“Now, this I kind of like,” Aleta admitted as she stood in front of a huge canvas. “I like the colors and how the black splits them up.”
Just then, a tall man in an ivory linen suit came up and stood next to them. He smiled broadly and raised his champagne flute.
“Ladies, welcome.” He had short cut black curly hair and skin the color of caramel. “I hope you are having a good time.”
“Well, yes. My sister Aleta was just admiring the painting here.”
The man turned to look at the painting, gave it a cursory glance, and turned back to the sisters. “To be honest, I’m here mostly for the good company. The art is…. artistic, but I wouldn’t know a great painting from one done by my 5-year-old nephew. I just don’t have the eye.”
“Well, what does this one make you think of?” Georgie asked, pointing to the painting.
The man looked again at the painting and really considered it for a few seconds.
“It reminds me of rush-hour traffic from God’s point of view.” He raised his champagne glass. “And makes me happy I’m not stuck in it.”
Both sisters laughed and raised their glasses.
“Even that thought gives this piece value. It made you see something from a completely new perspective.” Georgie tipped her champagne glass back to sip the tart, bubbly liquid. “That reminds me of something the worst teacher I’d ever had in art school said about the purpose of art.”
“Oh, so you’re an artist?” asked the man.
“Yes, I paint portraits, mostly.”
“And you,” said the man, nodding in Aleta’s direction. “Are you an artist too?”
“Hardly,” said Aleta. “I’ll take a spreadsheet over a canvas any day.”
“Now that’s my kind of girl,” said the man. He was easily 30 years younger than the sisters were but flirted with ease and charm. “I’m Jamal Landry.” He shook the sisters’ hands as they introduced themselves.
“Believe it or not, I own part of this place, but like you, Aleta, I’d rather look at the accounts than the art.”
“Well, we all have our passions, I suppose,” Georgie said.
“I’ll let you ladies enjoy your evening and get back to the art.” Jamal smiled broadly and walked past the sisters to mingle with others.
“Hey, where did Edward Scissorhands go with the champagne? I could use a fresh glass.” Aleta looked around but before she could spot the waiter she clutched Georgie’s arm. “Look over there,” she whispered and jerked her chin to the furthest corner of the room.
“How did we miss that?” Georgie gushed.
“I don’t know but I can now say I am glad we came tonight. For a while there I wasn’t quite sure but now I am.”
The Kaye sisters grew up calling them sweet tables, long tables stacked high and deep with dozens of miniature desserts. Over the years, as their children got married, both Georgie and Aleta let the brides-to-be plan their dream weddings. But there was no stopping them from ensuring the sweet tables would be intoxicating oases of epic sugary proportions.
“Oh my. What a clever idea.” Georgie pointed to the half a dozen glass jars filled with a variety of candies that twinkled like Christmas lights.
“Do you think that is lemon torte?” Aleta asked, pointing to dainty little triangles in lacy paper cups.
“I’m not sure but I know these are double fudge brownies with raspberry glaze.” Georgie leaned over the table clutching her chest. She reached for a plate that was only the size of a tea cup saucer. Searching for larger plates, she shrugged her shoulders, picked up a pair of delicate silver tongs and began to load up.
“Dees ates ur too mall,” Aleta whispered with her hand over her mouth.
“What did you say?”
Aleta swallowed, rolling her eyes and licking her lips.
“These plates are too small,” Aleta said, watching her sister pop the chocolate brownie in her mouth.
“How do they expect anyone to enjoy all these if you can only fit two pieces on it at a time?”
“That’s so someone can take the leftovers home.” Georgie nodded her head as if this was a conspiracy theory she had all figured out.
“When are you and Nate Stephenson supposed to talk to figure out all the details of your showing?” Aleta asked as she added a tiny éclair and what looked like a miniature cannoli.
“He didn’t say. I figured I’d just try and find him at some point.”
Aleta swallowed hard and grabbed her sister’s wrist.
“Well, let’s corner this Nate fellow and get the details in order.” Aleta, who’d run her own accounting firm before retiring and passing the business on to her daughter Emily, never met a deal she didn’t want to negotiate.
“I’m keeping an eye on him. He’s talking to that man in the beret and the woman standing next to him with the huge beady-bangles hanging around her neck.” She took a smaller bite of a cheesecake bite with a cherry on top. “I don’t want to interrupt and act all desperate.”
“Right,” Aleta agreed. “That will give us more time to sample these things.” She nodded toward the table.
“I know. Let’s fill our plates and then walk around to the stuff we haven’t seen at the other side of the loft.”
Aleta nodded. Within seconds they were slowly wading through the other guests until they came to an abstract painting that caused them both to stop and stare. It was painted completely black.
“I see the darkness of the soul,” Georgie mused while licking powdered sugar from her fingers. “An alcoholic or a drug addict. How hopeless it may seem. How frightening it must seem.”
“I see a black canvas going for over twelve-thousand dollars. This is the painting of what your bank account looks like after you buy this piece,” Aleta teased.
“May I have your attention? Everyone?” Giggling a little, both women turned to see Nate Stephenson tapping the side of his champagne glass with a fork, making a lovely ping-ping-ping sound.
The bustle of the room came to a halt and all eyes turned toward the man in the red scarf.
“I want to thank everyone for coming. Before I welcome our featured artist, I’d like to give props to my business partner and friend, Jamal Landry. His support with this gallery has been invaluable. Sigma Alpha Epsilon. True Sigs, true friends, true brothers.” Nate raised his glass to Jamal who gave a gracious nod of appreciation. “You, the art buyers who have made Wyland Art Gallery not just an art gallery but the crown jewel for established and novice artists throughout Chicago and across the state. For that I am humbled and thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
A happy pattering of applause rippled through the crowd.
“As many of you know,” Nate continued. “I have been a fan of Xio’s work since he came crashing onto the art scene at the tender age of eighteen with his amazing exhibit, Bingdong, loosely translated meaning Frost.”
Nate gestured toward a bald-headed Asian man who had a round, kind face, and wore a lapis-colored vintage Tang suit. He smiled at Nate and bowed slightly as his talents and artwork were praised.
“Now, having developed his craft after several years under such influential artists as Antony Gormly, Susan Matress, and Bruce Nauman, we are thrilled to see the evolution of this innovative artist and welcome him into the fold of groundbreaking visionaries who touch our lives with….”
Before Nate could finish his speech, a man stumbled noisily into the center of the gallery spinning completely around off balance, before falling flat on the floor. After the initial gasp, to which Georgie and Aleta contributed, a hush fell over the entire loft. All eyes were on the man as he giggled and mumbled and rolled onto his stomach in order to push himself at least up to his knees.
“This isn’t art! Fart? Maybe!” Continue part 2